Pocket Gardens, or How to Garden in Even the Tiniest Outdoor Space

It could be a Juliet balcony, an urban front yard, the narrow space between houses, a boulevard you’d like to take under your wing, or any other tiny spot. You want it to be beautiful and functional. You already know how to make a nice container, but you also know there’s lots more you could do if only you knew what that was.

A Few Suggestions:

1. If you’re going to sit and relax in your Tiny Outdoor Space, make it feel like a sitting, relaxing room. You can provide a sense of intimacy by planting walls and ceiling. A large shrub–such as smokebush (Cotinus coryggia) or lilac (Syringa sp)– or small tree–maybe a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Atropupurem’ for example) or Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'–can serve as overhead screening, giving a “sense of ceiling” without it actually enclosing the space. A pergola, with or without climbers, can do the same. Lattice covered with clematis or passion flower or honeysuckle (just make sure you’re OK with the power of the scent) can be your walls. Maybe not all four walls…

Finally, there are lots of weather-tolerant rugs out there. (Some concrete patios really need to be covered.) Voila, an outdoor room!

2. Repetition.

The smaller the space, the more you need to control the number and variety of your plants. Sticking to one colour palette or even one plant can deliver up a dramatic statement.

3. Planting beds, or patio?

I’m a real plant person. I just can’t have enough– propagating, dividing, even buying if I can’t resist. So I’ve tended to think a “garden” with mostly hard surfaces just doesn’t qualify as a “garden”. OK, I’m changing my mind. Beautiful stone hardscaping, even concrete or gravel or hardwood, interspersed with small spaces for planting, can be just the thing to highlight a bed of sedum or creeping thyme, Red-baron-Imperata-cylindrica-SADNICA_slika_XL_3062736Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica) glowing in late afternoon sun, or a weeping Spruce (Picea abies ‘Pendula’) or Hinoki Cypress.

4. The Narrow Side Yard

side_yard_landscaping

Not mine, but this is the idea.

I currently have a 4 ft wide space between the house to the west and a fence to the east. It’s in almost full shade, covered in river rock, a haven for weeds, deciduous ferns and generic foxglove, and is completely wasted space. Alternating small planting beds (3-4′ long and less than 2′ deep) will break up the “bowling alley” look, and placing pavers or flagstones in among the river rock improves the practicality of the space.What has always been a chore could become a more convenient and attractive route along the east of the house.

5. And Finally…

…The Balcony. Make it comfy. If the chairs are uncomfortable chances are you’ll just look at them instead of sitting in them. Make it walkable–don’t put so many things at floor level that you have to look where you’re placing your feet all the time. Much as I love container gardens, too many is just too many. Frame the view.

You wouldn't want to obscure this view for the sake of privacy

You wouldn’t want to obscure this view for the sake of privacy!

You’ll have to choose how to balance between privacy and view, but choosing tall-ish items (bamboo or small tree) on either side of the best part of the view will highlight it more than leaving it fully open, while still giving a little privacy. Have a surface for your coffee cup. It doesn’t have to be a table, and remember that circles take up more space than squares or rectangles.

There are SO MANY possibilities for that small space that you don’t know what to do with. If none of the above ignites the creative in you, why not post a picture here and see what our readers (or I) can offer.

As always, post comments, questions, Pin, or Like on Facebook. And play with that Tiny Outdoor Space. One great thing about a Tiny Outdoor Space–it costs a lot less to experiment!

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